F.C Barcelona 2-0 Real Betis: La Liga, Gameweek 1: Player Ratings

Navjot’s scores from Barça’s league opener.

Marc Andre ter Stegen (5/10)

Despite a dominant victory for Barcelona, Ter Stegen wasn’t at his best. The German did not have to save a ton of shot considering the very few chances that Real Betis managed to create. How ever, he wasn’t at his distributive best, often choosing to make the safe pass instead of initiating counter-attacks.

Jordi Alba (5/10)

It is difficult to judge Jordi Alba when he is on the wrong side of the field. For most of last year, the attacking side of the pitch was usually the left flank. However, in the absence of Neymar and Iniesta, Alba seemed pretty lost as to what was expected of him. Misplacing simple passes, the Spaniard did just enough to put in a decent outing and not let the rest of the team down.

Javier Mascherano (7/10)

There is not much that can be said about El Jefecito apart from the fact that he had an absolutely sensational game. Despite talks of his dwindling physical capabilities going around, there was little physical evidence on the night. From start to finish–including an excellent tackle from behind to deny Sergio Leon–Mascherano put in a defensive masterclass and reaffirmed his importance to the team.

Samuel Umtiti (6/10)

A solid performance from the Frenchman. Umtiti wasn’t making tackles galore but he was the perfect supporting role, winning balls in the air and holding the fort like a man on a mission. However, he was the second best centre-back on the night, which is okay.

Nelson Semedo (6/10)

We all love Aleix Vidal but Nelson Semedo is simply better. The Portuguese offered excellent control going forward. His tendency to cut in was negated by Gerard Deulofeu who stuck to his flank to take apart the conpact Betis defence. This allowed Semedo to play his natural game and show us how good he can be with the ball at his feet. If he keeps playing the way he did last night, I would say he is already on course to become a mainstay on the team-sheet..

Sergio Busquets (7/10)

There is very little to say about Busquets. He was the man in the middle running the show alongside another player whom we’ll get to. Busquets was everywhere–controlling the tempo, making runs in possession playing one-twos and breaking down the tight Betis defence.

Ivan Rakitic (5/10)

Things haven’t been going very well for Ivan Rakitic. While he wasn’t under-performing, he was definitely under the radar for most of the game. Playing simple passes and letting Deulofeu and Semedo to run the show, Rakitic spent quite some time covering for the men around him. It is a role that we have seen him thrive in, bt it is time for the Croatian to be a little more, which just seemed lacking.

Sergi Roberto (7/10)

A goal to his name is a deserved reward for a solid performance. Stepping up for Andres Iniesta can be hard but Sergi Roberto did more than enough to keep his critics quiet. Linking well with everyone, Sergi Roberto played the kind of incisive game that I expect from a more seasoned midfielder. His positioning was excellent and he managed to do a commendable job filling in for the captain. More of the same, please.

Gerard Deulofeu (8/10)

Man of the match. While Deulofeu wasn’t the best player on the pitch, it was his actions that were the most productive. Forcing the first goal with a teasing ball across the goal, and creating the second with an intelligent pull-back for Sergi Roberto, Deulofeu made a solid case for himself. If preseason wasn’t enough, this should do the trick.

Paco Alcacer (5/10)

A relatively invisible performance considering the lack of supply on his end, Alcacer managed to get into decent spots without cluttering up the middle. His positioning and sense of attacking play allowed him to keep some of the defenders on his coattails. Nothing special, but still a utilitarian performance.

Lionel Messi (8/10)

On any other night, Messi would have been the man of the match; not this one. Hitting the woodwork thrice, Messi was unfortunate to not have gotten on the score sheet. The Argentine however, was the key to everything, unlocking the opposition defence and pretty much taking matters into his own hands. Messi ran the show alongside Busquets, controlling and creating for all those around him playing in his vintage false 9 role. Every attack went through Messi, and if it wasn’t for bad luck, he could have added 3 goals to his game.

Aleix Vidal (4/10)

A welcome relief to see Aleix Vidal in the front line. There wasn’t much to his game considering that Betis had already shut down by the time Vidal came on. He did miss a very good chance, but he was still settling in and it was to be expected.

Denis Suarez (NA)

Nothing special, and came on too late to have any significant impact.

Lucas Digne (NA)

Once again, too late of an appearance to have any impact.

The Team (7/10)

Barca looked in control and created plenty of chances. A more clinical team could have scored 5-6 goals, but then they probably wouldn’t have created as many chances. Solid in attack and defence, with sufficient midfield control.

Ernesto Valverde (7/10)

Ernie had a good game tactically bar subs. He set up his team well, with an inverted player and a flank operator on either side (Semedo-Deulofeu/Alcacer-Alba). His changes however, were too late and practically ineffective. Yes, they gave us a glimpse of what the bench had to offer, but with little to no time left on the clock, it made no difference. Good management, but could have been better.

Man of the Match

Gerard Deulofeu.

Maybe this selection is a little biased considering how happy I am that he finally had a decent performance against a good side. Hopefully this game gives him the confidence to step up and make himself indispensable.

Bartomeu using Barcelona for personal gains?

The Paulinho transfer is taking a dark turn

There has been a lot of confusion regarding Barça’s interest in Guangzhou’s Paulinho. How is a Premier League flop moving to Barcelona for an eye-watering €40 million? Has Barcelona lost its minds? Are we really going from Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta to Paulinho?

There has been online speculation that there is more to Paulinho’s transfer than just sporting reasons.

Josep Maria Bartomeu Floreta is a partner and CEO at ADELTE Group which is into designing, manufacturing, supplying and maintaining airports, seaports and road transport operations.

Apparently, ADELTE Group is expanding into China and are bidding on projects like the Ocean FLower Island built by the Evergrande group which also happens to be the parent organisation of—you guessed it—Guangzhou.

There are rumours that Florentino Perez’s ACS was also bidding for the project, but with the Paulinho transfer concluded, could be handed over to ADELTE Group and/or associates.

If true, this is abominable behaviour from the club president—it is shameful that Barcelona has merely become a tool for Bartomeu’s personal gains.

There is still no concrete source or information and everything is merely speculation, but the Paulinho transfer is definitely starting to seem murkier than it appears on the surface.

Rumours: Paulinho to Barcelona, Dembele and Coutinho meetings, Arda Turan, Marlon Santos and more

The latest gossip and transfer updates

Paulinho to Barcelona:

Everyone is concerned at the moment that the Paulinho transfer has been concluded. In essence, this deal looks pretty done, to be honest, with Sport confirming the deal that was first broken by The Daily Mail. According to the report, Paulinho will sign a 4-year contract receiving a net pay of €5million annually.

RAC1 is also reporting similar news, claiming that a deal will be closed on Monday.

Paulinho, who was restricted from social media while at Guangzhou, has joined Weibo (Chinese Twitter) which is another sign that the player is moving to Barcelona, via Marca.

Ernesto Valverde denied his involvement in the player’s arrival, which makes this signing rather abstruse. It is shocking that Barcelona has shelled out so much money on a Premier League flop and only time will tell the purpose of this transfer. My guess? Barcelona is trying to make its presence felt in the lucrative Chinese market and Paulinho is the only player the club considered worthwhile.

Dembele and Coutinho Situation:

There has been some massive progress on two fronts for Barcelona as the duo of Dembele and Coutinho look likely to join the Catalans.

After going AWOL and missing training, Ousmane Dembele was fined and suspended by Borussia Dortmund. However, the player’s indiscipline has forced the Germans to reconsider their stance on the situation. A meeting between the Frenchman and Dortmund was reported by Sky on Thursday. Barcelona finally has some leverage and should make the most of Dembele’s antics to negotiate a reasonable transfer fee.

Coutinho, on the other hand, made a formal request to leave the club which was swiftly rejected by Liverpool. However, with Coutinho’s mind set on a transfer to Barcelona, Liverpool look like they’re finally willing to negotiate a transfer.

As a manager, I have to accept the decisions of the owners and the players. That’s how it works. They decide, for example, if we sell or don’t sell a player. I have to accept it.

—Jurgen Klopp

Reports suggest that all three deals (Paulinho, Dembele and Coutinho) could be finalised in the next couple of days.

The kind of commitment Dembele and Coutinho have shown to Barcelona are telling signs of their loyalty and the duo will be welcome replacements for the departing Neymar.

Arda Turan and Marlon Santos:

Barcelona is all geared up for El Clasico but two names that have been left out of the squad are Arda Turan and Marlon Santos. It has been known for a while that Arda Turan is not a part of Ernesto Valverde’s plans. However, the blatant exclusion of the Turkey star is a probable indicator of his imminent departure.

Marlon Santos is another name who has curiously been left out of the squad ahead of a speculated loan move. News of a possible transfer for Yerry Mina has stalled since the Colombian’s injury meaning Marlon still has a shot at impressing the new coach.

Full Squad List: Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Nélson Semedo, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis Suárez, Andrés Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Mascherano, Deulofeu, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto, Aleix Vidal and Umtiti.

Adria Vilanova moves to Hercules on loan:

In some news from the B team, Adria Vilanova, son of former coach Tito Vilanova, has joined Segunda side Hercules on loan. The 20-year-old centre-back has impressed in his time with the Juvenil A side and a move is a good option for the player. 19-year-old winger Mohamed Ezzarfani will follow Adria to Hercules after arriving from CF Badalona.

David Concha to Barça B:

20-year-old right-back David Concha has joined Barcelona B from Real Sociedad on loan. The attacking full-back has a history of playing on the wings and will be a welcome contrast to Sergi Palencia’s bulldog-ish playing style.

Concha is the club’s 8th signing for the B Team.

Rumours: Denis to Napoli, Arda Turan to Galatasaray, Inigo Martinez and Munir El Haddadi

The latest gossip and transfer updates

Denis Suarez to Napoli:

It is no secret that Barcelona’s midfield is over-crowded and the potential arrival of Coutinho is only going to make things worse.

For the past couple of windows, Napoli has shown interest in attacking midfielder Denis Suarez. They first approached Barcelona for Denis in January and they have returned this summer to enquire regarding the midfielder’s availability. Valverde, however, likes the player and doesn’t want to lose him. Barça has put a €14 million price tag on the Spaniard and will only consider a sale if Munir El Haddadi stays with the club.

Any move for Denis will include a buy-back.

Arda Turan to Galatasaray:

It is no secret that Arda Turan is not in Ernesto Valverde’s plans and as such, has been angling for a move away from the Camp Nou. With no concrete offers on the table, Arda has asked Barcelona to consider Galatasaray’s offer for a loan. Apparently, the midfielder claimed emotional reasons and wants a move back to his boyhood club.

It would be in Barça’s best interest to let the midfielder leave in view of the squad limitations.

Inigo Martinez to Barcelona off:

Marca is claiming that one of the reasons behind Barcelona cooling their interest in Inigo Martinez—apart from the steep asking price of €32 million—is Javier Mascherano. According to the report, Mascherano would feel unsettled should the Basque centre-back arrive since it would hamper his playing time before the World Cup.

It seems very far-fetched to be honest, and I can’t see El Jefecito complaining about someone’s arrival. Martinez is good but would arrive for an entirely different role than the one Mascherano currently plays. This also contradicts previous reports suggesting that the club trusted Marlon and incoming Yerry Mina to bear the load.

Munir El Haddadi to Roma:

Munir El Haddadi could be off to Roma this season for good.

Roma has been looking for a winger ever since the departure of Mohamed Salah. With moves for Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez and AC Milan’s Suso not developing, the Serie A side has turned its attention to Munir.

The forward does not feature in Ernesto Valverde’s plans and Munir’s agent has already confirmed Roma’s interest in his client:

Roma would be a welcome destination, they’re a top-level club, but I can’t say any more because the agreement is still being discussed by the two clubs.

For Munir’s sake, I hope he finds playing time—he deserves it.

Arda Turan wants Atletico Madrid return

Galatasaray and China are looking more likely

Arda Turan is representative of everything wrong with Barcelona’s transfer policy—brought in for big money from Atletico Madrid during a transfer ban, the player was only purchased with political intent in mind. There were many players at the time that would have been better suited to Barcelona’s sporting project but Arda wasn’t one of them.

After two years at the club, having been sidelined by new coach Ernesto Valverde, Turan finds himself in the difficult position of having to orchestrate a move from Barcelona.

The Turk’s boyhood club Galatasaray recently confirmed that they are working on a transfer for the playmaker, but their offer is currently for a loan.

“Come back as captain of the lions.”

—Dursun Özbek, Club President Galatasaray

China is another destination that has been suggested as a potential destination.

According to Marca, however, there is only one club on Arda’s mind and it is Atletico Madrid. Any move would mean that Turan will have to sit out for another six months as Atletico finds itself in the same position as Barca in the 15/16 season.

Unfortunately for Arda, the report suggests he is unwanted at his former club and a reunion with Galatasaray is more likely to materialise.

A Fan’s Perspective: Why Iñigo Martínez is a good option for Barcelona

This transfer looks like it will go through…

Barcelona is reportedly after Basque centre-back Iñigo Martínez for a fee of €32 million.

According to Sport, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu spoke to Real Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay on the telephone to discuss the player. While Sociedad has refused to budge from their hefty buyout clause, they’re apparently willing to negotiate the fee in terms of a transfer so Barcelona can avoid paying additional taxes.

With Jeremy Mathieu gone and Thomas Vermaelen halfway out the door, the need for another left sided defender is apparent in the Barcelona back-line. Javier Mascherano remains the primary back-up for both CB roles while newly promoted Marlon Santos could be loaned out to a team in La Liga. This means that there is still room for a left-footed CB, which is where Iñigo Martínez comes in.

There are many who will question the acquisition—in most part because of the price—but the player has been a long-term target for Barcelona ever since he first caught the attention of former sporting director Andoni Zubizaretta.

Samuel Umtiti has managed to usurp Javier Mascherano from the starting line-up forming a formidable partnership with Gerard Pique in the process. There are multiple reports in the market that suggest that Iñigo is being brought in to replace Umtiti from the heart of defence; I beg to differ.

Umtiti trumps the Basque in possession and defence while Iñigo comes out on top in terms of creating from the back. However, any advantage that Iñigo may bring in will be temporary considering the growth curve that Umtiti has been on for the past couple of years. There will be sceptics regarding the player himself, as many would rather buy someone younger, but instant success is a necessity at Barça—we need someone who can contribute now.

It would be a grave mistake on the club’s part if they’re bringing in a big name for the sake of it. If one were to forget the price, however, Iñigo Martínez is a huge improvement over both Jeremy Mathieu & Thomas Vermaelen, and I would swap him for those two in a heartbeat.

A Fan’s Perspective: Glamour, Fortune, Pain

An opinion on Neymar’s journey with FC Barcelona

Neymar’s transfer to Barcelona was the club’s best acquisition in almost a decade—replacing David Villa wasn’t going to be easy but the Youtube sensation was up to the task, wasn’t he?

Well, not quite.

Neymar was a skinny brat with feet that could surprise the dullest of statues and wake them from their slumber. His ability and potential promised the stars, but he wasn’t the first Brazilian with a reputation for having talent—there had been plenty of prospects who moved to Europe hoping to make a name for themselves in vain; Neymar was an expensive risk.

FC Barcelona v Villarreal CF - La Liga
Neymar scored a paltry 14 goals in his debut season with Barcelona (9 goals in the Liga and 4 in the Champions League)

If seeing was believing, then Neymar was going to be special. He had the flair and charisma to win over the world. He was an investment on behalf of the board, albeit a murky one, but he was certainly starting to pay dividends—had anyone seen a talent like the Brazilian in the modern generation? I certainly hadn’t; there was an aura around the transfer that brought the spotlight in all its brilliance on Barcelona. It was a commercial masterstroke for the club and its ambition of being a global sporting brand.

Neymar grew into his role with each passing year, becoming a crucial part of Barça’s attacking trident alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. The three of them took the world by storm, scoring goals for fun and rewriting records in the process—between the three of them, Barcelona boasted of having the top three players in the world.

In 2015, the trio won Barça their second treble in exciting fashion with Neymar scoring the goal that put the Champions League final against Juventus to bed.

Barcelona was an empire, and Neymar was the heir apparent to the throne.

If someone had told me before Neymar’s transfer that Barcelona would get involved in shady underhanded transfers, I would have scoffed at them with disgust—how dare someone make such accusations about my beloved club? I couldn’t have been more wrong. It took four years for the Blaugrana to resolve the issue with the legal authorities and finally put the matter to rest; the perpetrator, former Barcelona president Sandro Rossell, sits in jail at this moment.

Many believed that Neymar was worth every single penny that the club spent on his transfer—I was in agreement. Whether it was worth risking the club’s reputation is an entirely separate issue, but financially? It was worth it.

At least till he asked for a transfer.

Suddenly, everyone sees the player and his father for their antics. The warning bells should have rung when Barcelona had to pay a massive sum of money to Neymar’s corporation for his transfer. If that wasn’t enough, the constant flirting with Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain should have alarmed the board, but it didn’t. Surely it was just gossip, wasn’t it?

The speed with which Neymar has managed to wiggle his way out of the club makes me believe that this was all done in the most calculated of fashions. From the renewals to the low buyout clause along with the dragging of this saga till they became eligible for the loyalty bonus, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Neymar has held the club hostage to the point where we are left empty handed—apart from the €222million, that is.

If Neymar had asked for a transfer earlier, he wouldn’t be eligible for the bonus but would have given Barça enough time to find his replacement. In all fairness, an arrangement could have been negotiated and things could have ended peacefully between the player and the club. The reality, however, is a difficult pill to swallow.

In a tale that has come full-circle, Neymar’s tenure at Barça is tragically poetic.

Barcelona sold its soul to sign him, and after all the glamour and fortune, the pain was quick to follow; Sandro Rossell is a living testimony.

Neymar is selling his soul to move to PSG. I’m sure there will be a lot of glamour and money involved in the transfer and it will please him beyond belief.

If history is anything to go by, however, the pain isn’t too far behind.

“If you sell your soul to get ahead it will cost more than you bargained for. When you earn your success and never take something for nothing, no one can lay claim to what’s rightfully yours.” — Carlos Wallace

Barcelona rallying support to block Neymar’s PSG move

This isn’t going to end well…

There are multiple reports circulating that Neymar’s move to Paris Saint-Germain is almost a done deal at this point.

Well, almost.

According to Sport, Barcelona has been in touch with members of the disbanded G-14 to raise concerns regarding the Brazilian’s transfer. Barcelona’s agenda has primarily revolved around PSG’s blatant disregard for the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules. Another issue being discussed is the stratospheric market inflation that would follow once the transfer is consummated—with player prices already being exorbitant, any potential move would cause a major blow to the economic conditions of the business.

While all contact so far is unofficial, there is a minuscule chance that Barcelona put a full-stop to PSG’s antics.

Neymar is due to return to Spain to meet with his father and other advisors regarding the move. Barcelona is yet to pay the €26million they owed Neymar’s father for last season’s renewal, with the paperwork being delayed till after the transfer is finalised.

Barcelona is doing its best to give PSG a tough time in the Neymar saga and while there is very little left to be done, it’s not going to be pretty.

Andre Gomes sale being considered?

Marca suggests that the Portuguese could be pushed out the door…

Andre Gomes has been walking a very fine line since he first arrived for big money from Valencia.

The Portuguese midfielder had a horrid time last season with his poor performances turning the fans against him. Former coach Luis Enrique was a staunch supporter of the midfielder and made it a point to shield Gomes from criticism. With Ernesto Valverde at the helm, however, things could be looking down for Gomes. With the rise of Carles Aleña and Sergi Samper alongside a motivated Sergi Roberto, Barcelona’s midfield looks packed.

According to reports from Marca, Barcelona had hoped to clear out some space in their crowded midfield by selling former Atletico Madrid star, Arda Turan. Despite being a high profile name, the Turk has failed to garner interest from big teams which has the club contemplating whether funds could be raised from the sale of Andre Gomes.

Gomes has not returned from his holidays yet which means he has lost his chance to impress the new coach in the preseason.

Whether the move will materialise or not is not sure, but if the club is looking to raise funds then the fans should prepare themselves for some big names this summer.

A Fan’s Perspective: The fly in the room

An opinion on Neymar’s situation and its impact on Barça’s transfer window

Everyone’s begging for some answers in this transfer window and there’s very little satisfaction in the rumours that are circulated around like clockwork during the silly season.

Will Barça finally sign a right-back?

Is Verratti going to wear the Blaugrana?

Will Neymar stay? Will Neymar leave?

Somewhere in all the dilemma, Barça has lost sight of its true objectives for the summer. The club was in need of some major reinforcements in key areas and for a while, it seemed like Barcelona was on course to fix its issues for good. However, as the summer passes by, Barcelona have started asking the wrong questions. Why is Neymar’s future even an agenda in July? Didn’t we just sign him up on a new deal? He literally has 4 more years on his contract and yet, here we are…

From addressing a big hole in the squad like the right-back situation, Barcelona had quickly shifted their attention to positions that called for consolidation—an ageing Andres Iniesta needed to be replaced and calls for Verratti seemed like the right decision to make at the time. Yet, here we stand, discussing Neymar once more, and incessantly refreshing our social media feeds and constantly searching for the same keywords like mad men in the hope of finding some fresh, concrete information that will finally squash our doubts.

I have no issues with Neymar. It wouldn’t bother me if the Brazilian departs—another will fill his shoes and the wheel will still keep turning. Do we really need this bugbear though? Do the fans deserve this ceaseless nagging sensation of uncertainty? I don’t think so; we deserve an answer, and we deserve it now.

Neymar’s contract situation is like the fly that refuses to leave the room and keeps buzzing around your ears every few minutes. Time and again, Barca has had to deal with speculation regarding the Brazilian’s exit—most times, it was midseason and the situation was resolved within a few days. This PSG saga, however, has gone on for way too long and has become a distraction from our true goals for the summer. What happened to our midfield reinforcements? What happened to the departures of unwanted fringe players?

From a harmless rumour, the circumstances have become murky and there is only one solution to the endless suffering—demand answers. If we keep playing this game of begging and pleasing, we will end up with very little power in our hands. We need to fix a deadline, start prioritising our needs and identify targets before it’s too late to negotiate with the selling clubs.

I loved Neymar and believed in his ability to lead the team.

My opinion has changed.

If he continues to remain ignorant of the club’s need for assurances, maybe he isn’t the right man after all…